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FEATURE1 November 2010

Hear me out: Let’s get rid of viewing studios


Ever had an idea that you know is genius, but everybody else thinks is crazy? Here’s where we let researchers share those thoughts with the industry. This month, Andy Cooper of Thinktank calls for viewing studios to be scrapped.

?What’s the big idea?
No more viewing studios. Clients can either come out from behind the mirror, or not attend groups at all.

Explain yourself.
We as an industry have been in a rut when it comes to how clients glean insight from group discussions. For too long we have been using a model that sees every project involve at least one night of viewed groups where the research client, maybe with some agency people and the brand team, sit, view, chat and eat. They’re giving up their evenings and weekends, but is it worthwhile?

I’m not saying clients shouldn’t come to research. If brands want to meet their consumers then groups are a great opportunity. But if you want to meet them then do it properly – get out from behind the mirror.

“We’ve all had a client who comes along to one group, hears one juicy and compelling story from an interesting respondent and thinks they’ve got ‘the answer’. They haven’t.”

Why should any client agree to this?
Two pretty basic motivations: time and money. Evenings are precious. If you’re going to give up your evenings for work, it had better be worth missing EastEnders or The Apprentice for. But think back over the groups you’ve attended. How much do the team really get out of it? How much time is spent listening and how much is spent having a nice catch-up? Most brand teams are so busy that chances to get together for a chat about how things are going are very rare. It makes sense for them to the take the opportunity while they’re all together behind the mirror. I just think they’d be better off in the pub round the corner if that’s how they want to spend an evening.

As for money, we all know viewing facilities are expensive – and that’s before the agency suit has started plying everyone with the contents of the beerfridge.

Clients listen sometimes, though, don’t they?
Yes, but even if you listen intently you’re behind a glass only getting a bit of what’s going on. You’re not getting so much of the non-verbal communication the moderator picks up on, you’re not picking up on that energy in the room.

Most importantly, though, answers don’t come directly from the mouths of respondents, they come out of the analysis process. The importance of the time taken by researchers thinking about what occurred in the group and what this means to the client cannot be underestimated. Watching the groups is like buying a see-through kettle.

But isn’t it valuable to hear those stories first hand?
Yes and no. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. As Dan Ariely points out (while giving group discussions a kicking), people have an “insatiable need for a story”. We’ve all had a client who comes along to one group, hears one juicy and compelling story from an interesting respondent and thinks they’ve got ‘the answer’. They haven’t.

And remember, when that happens it’s as much the clientside researcher’s problem as the agency’s. It’s got to be a real pain to come in the next morning and find that a non-research-literate internal client who only stayed for one group is spreading a verbatim quote from a lunatic respondent around the building claiming it as the answer.

Isn’t it all about getting brands closer to their consumers?
Of course it is, sometimes. But that doesn’t happen if the brand team are sat behind a sheet of glass browsing takeaway menus. If you want to get closer to your consumers then do it. We no longer have passive consumers, we can’t have passive clients. Get in the room, get in the circle, get involved in the warm-up – just for God’s sake talk to the moderator beforehand and behave.

I appreciate this may be scary for both clients and researchers but it shouldn’t be. Agencies shouldn’t think they’ve done their job just by putting on a night of view groups – and clients shouldn’t think they’ve done theirs if they just turn up and sit in the dark.

Got a bold idea you’ve been itching to share? Let us know:


8 years ago

A see-through kettle? I'm afraid you lost me there...

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8 years ago

Right problem, wrong solution... Several very relevant issues here - clients focussing on 1 quote, too much focus on the food + drink, lack of respect for analysis process, ..... agreed. However, not sure the get in the room solution is right. My experience is that either clients sit in the room, terrified to say anything or much worse they start asking very leading questions to get the sympathy and answer they want (showing why we need moderators). So what other ideas? - Task the viewers - give them 2-3 challenges whilst they watch - e.g. write down the insight that most surpised you? what attitude will be most challenging for the business? - Wash-up sessions - get clients to stay-on for 30 mins to have a wash up session and gain some form of consensus on take-outs from the groups - minimises risk of clients charging off with ill-formed insights - Manage the stakeholders - remind, remind again and then tell them that 1 group is 6-8 people and analysis is therefore critical - basic best practice... Some much can be gained from attending groups, particularly when stakeholders rarely get to see customers, viewing should not be ruled out without exploring other ideas.

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8 years ago

Good points in the responses - the wash-up debriefings are a great idea and reminding the clients of the qualitative nature of the study is great. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but as a Brit who now works in the US, beerfridges are not present in facilities (at least in my region). All folks who show up to view our sessions are dedicated, eager to learn and not there to schmooz. In fact, I LOVE it when clients show up - that means they're bought in to the study. While this article is interesting, it seems like the author has a slight fixation on back-room clients simply being their to eat, drink and chat. While that may be the authors experience, it's certainly not mine.

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8 years ago

Really like the idea of a wash up session and the overall thought around managing the stakeholders and briefing them on what's going on (reminded that it's just one group etc.) When clients watch who understand and are engaged in the process I absolutely agree that it's a great thing. And when that's the case why not brief them clearly (so that they don't ask leading questions etc.) and then get them in the room so they can get so much more from the session I hope I'm not fixated on clients who just come for the food but I have highlighted an extreme to make a point and provoke debate. Looking back I will accept the see through kettle is a crap analogy. thanks Andy

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8 years ago

As a client I have recently suggested sitting in on groups, and in both instances I was advised by the moderator against it. Reason: respondents reactions altered by client presence, people saying stuff more to please the client. I wasn't convinced, but acquiesed. I for one am certainly not bothered at all about food and drink behind the mirror - and I do think it is possible to pick up quite a lot of the non verbal interactions as long as the viewing facility is halfway decent

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